Hostages to Fortune
Hawk shivered from the terrible coldness of the tiny room in Sickbay and huddled gratefully on the sofa someone had commandeered from some ship's lounge. His head against Hawk’s shoulder, Ari slept peacefully beside him.
Buck's regeneration tank filled one end of the tiny room. It looked like a glass fish tank with its clear sides and liquid contents. Glowing with some alien energy, the tank radiated healing, growing vitality to the man floating within. A blanket covered most of the tank so that only Buck's unflawed profile showed to the watchers on the sofa.
Despite Tiber's insistence about Buck's unawareness and Hawk's own mental void during regeneration, Ari was determined to spend part of each day with Buck. His friend Buck would sense that he was not entirely alone.
From what Hawk could gather, Buck had had little privacy. Most of the crew had been down here over the last few weeks and would continue to come. Staying for a few minutes or several hours, they had kept Buck steady company. Even sensible Wilma had brought the sleeping Buck a vase of flowers as was the custom for sick friends in the 20th century. Someone else had brought snacks and drinks for anyone interested.
Buck would like this. His month in the tank was a long and happy wake for his friends. Rebirth would be in this world and not the next too.
Ari stirred, fighting sleep. Hawk soothed, "Go back to sleep. Rest. Buck knows we are here. You have had a long and tiring day." Ari relaxed once more.
Since Buck had gone into the tank, Hawk had insisted that Ari spend as much time as possible with Tiber. Remaining only as a passive spectator, Hawk had watched Tiber run the boy through an incredibly strange array of physical and telepathic tests.
Finishing as a doctor, she had begun as a telepathic teacher to both Ari and One, and, surprisingly, himself. Totally untrained, Ari and One were wild psychic talents with very little control or finesse, but they had eagerly accepted her restrictions about how a telepath should and shouldn’t behave with others and how to shield others and themselves from their energy.
As the person closest to Ari and One, he was trained to shield himself from accidental telepathic intrusion or energy, to help Ari direct and focus power, and to direct and focus his own strength and physical energy toward Ari for healing and strengthening Ari’s talents.
Those lessons had remained quite private so the others aboard wouldn’t learn what she truly was. She wished to be considered human.
These last weeks had hit him with shock waves of joy, but new fears had crept in as well. Finding Ari alive, he was now terror-stricken that he would lose him again.
What would happen to him if Ari died?
What would happen to Ari if he died?
He and Ari were the only family either had. Sometimes, he could pretend in his own heart that Ari was the son he and Koori had so desperately wanted. Ari was brother, son, and second-self to Hawk. Hawk was father, brother, and mother to the boy.
They were all the family that either had. The loss of one would devastate the other. They had seen what their love for each other had cost in these hellish months.
He and Ari were so alike in their love and their personal losses. They had both lost their mother then their father. They had both known the loneliness of no family and no people. Hawk had lost more only because he had lived longer, yet they both followed the same life pattern of lost loved ones.
Patterns. The avians of Throm had been obsessed with patterns.
Life is a pattern. Learn that pattern, and you will follow the correct path.
His people had examined their deterioration as a race and had not fought back. They had seen ending and did not struggle. They decided that their life as a race died so they crept into huts and caves and became defenseless.
Defenseless, they had died.
Hawk's father had fought against such fatalism, and he had died, too, seeking a new future. His people had told Hawk that his father’s death had been part of the pattern, too.
Hawk had once heard an ancient curse-- "You will live to see all you love die before you." He now realized that was his curse and his pattern.
Everyone he loved had died-- parents, foster parents, his tribe, Koori, Buck, and Ari. Buck and Ari had been returned, but for how long? Perhaps this was a wicked joke the universe played before it stole them away again.
The stubborn pattern of loss was there in his life. He had laughed at such fatalism before. He had even refused it when Koori had come to him after his suicide attempt.
Fatalism and suicide were not really in his nature, but he had been shattered by vividly reliving, one after another, the deaths of his loved ones. In his greatest agony he had slit his wrists.
Tiber had kept him alive long enough to reconsider that act of mindless grief. The Koori within would not let him die, nor would the stubbornness of Hawk. He had survived.
Only he had been at risk the night Koori came, and he had refused the fatalism of his people. Buck and Ari were at risk now.
If he made the wrong choice today over the existence of his life pattern, he could condemn them to death. He could laugh at life patterns and fatalism, but what if he was wrong?
What if his people were right? They were ancient with a long history of civilization and wisdom, and he was a brash soldier with no home and no future. What if they were right and he was wrong?
If his people were right, by loving Ari and Buck and by letting them love him, he would be condemning them to death. Buck and Ari would be the next loved ones to die.
A human poet had written, "A man who loves gives hostages to fortune." Ari and Buck were his hostages to fortune. He would do anything to protect them. He would ransom them with his soul or his life, if he must, to save them, yet he could be their death instrument.
If his life pattern of death did exist, Buck and Ari were doomed. The only way they could survive him was for him to die first. Could he defeat his life pattern by dying before his loved ones died? Could he cheat his fate?
A plan formed. He could wait until the persistent healer and telepath Tiber was far away, then he would destroy his relationship with Buck and Ari to make them hate him so that they would not grieve so at his death. He would destroy their love of him so they would not be endangered by his life pattern.
After he had destroyed his relationship with them, he could have a "fighter malfunction" against the side of some mountain. Buck and Ari would be safe after his death. They would have each other for comfort.
Tiber had promised to raise the boy on her home world if anything ever happened to him. She could give Ari everything he and Buck could not -- a permanent home, a life and education among fellow telepaths, and a future that was not a military ship and constant danger. Ari should be a healer, a scholar, or a scientist. With his gentle telepath’s heart and his enormous intellect, he would never be a warrior like Hawk. Tiber was Ari's future.
Hawk grinned suddenly. She could be Buck's future, too. If any woman could catch the elusive Buck Rogers, it was Tiber. Buck was more than a little attracted already. Buck and Tiber could be Ari's parents.
Ari whimpered, calling Hawk back to himself and that cold room. The boy garbled words about Hawk's death in the nova and cried out in pain.
"It is all right, Ari. I am here. It is just a bad dream. Sleep and dream sweetly. Hawk is here." Filled with an overwhelming tenderness, he caressed Ari's cheek.
Certain now, he realized that he had little choice in his actions. This child was at risk. He could not wait and see whether life patterns existed or were just the sad fatalism of his dead race. He could not wait to see which one of his friends died next to prove or disprove this idea because Ari’s could be the next death. He would have to act now.
Right or wrong, he would die for Ari's sake. After his death, Make Make would tell him whether he was a fool or a clever fellow.
Buck shivered as if from cold as he gazed at Hawk who sat at the Searcher's controls. It was the graveyard shift of an uneventful mission so no one else worked on the bridge. Buck had thought it the perfect time to talk to Hawk for he had always seemed more human, no, make that more approachable, when he flew. Buck had just discovered he was wrong. There was nothing approachable about Hawk now.
The avian studied him with a granite implacability that Buck had not seen since those days when he and Hawk had carried Koori to the healer. Even then, Buck had seen Hawk's love and tenderness toward Koori. The ice cold had been reserved for the mortal enemy, but no longer.
"What do you wish to talk about, Captain Rogers?"
"My name is Buck. I'm your friend, remember?"
"My memory is unimpaired."
"What's gotten into you, Hawk? You've changed since the nova. I've noticed since I've been out of the regeneration tank. Everyone's noticed it. I know you've gone through hell since the nova, but so have I, and I haven't turned into Old Stone Face."
"I am not you, Human. I do my job. If there are any specific complaints, please express them. If not, leave me alone, Captain. You are my military superior, not my brother."
"Damn it, Hawk, that's just it. I'm not your brother, but Ari is. I've had a tough enough time handling your personality change, but don't you realize it's killing your little brother. Ari's hurt, no, he's devastated. He worships you. You're like a god to him. He doesn't know how to handle this change in you. He thinks it's his fault, that he's done something to displease you."
"The boy is not at fault."
"No, but you are. You're destroying the relationship between you two. All the brotherhood in the world won't repair the damage soon. A child can handle only so much indifference. Ari's still a child emotionally because of all those years of isolation. He needs more love and support than most boys his age. He's reached his limit of tolerance to your coldness. He'll have no choice but to leave you."
"I do not care."
The detachment behind Hawk's words made Buck furious. He fought his urge to punch his friend to get some form of response from him if only anger. "What's happened to you? Did that nova burn out your heart, or did Tiber bring back a corpse? That's all you are anymore, a walking dead man.
"I've known you as an enemy, a friendly enemy, and as a friend. I've admired and respected you in every role. Ari's known you only as his brother. His universe revolves around you.
"When you died, everything broke in the boy. He just sank inside of himself and wouldn't come out. One couldn't even get any response out of him. I think Ari would have given up and died but for my sake. He stayed to fight for my life.
"I was mortally hurt and in agony. I knew what I'd be if I survived -- a grotesque thing. I wanted to die, but Ari sat by my side, day and night, holding my good hand and tending my needs. I saw his big brown eyes black with unbearable grief and desolation and knew I couldn't die.
"I couldn't die because Ari would follow me." Buck swallowed hard and cleared his throat. "He needs you alive, too, alive in every sense. You're no more good for him walking around dead emotionally than if you were really dead. He needs you. Don't let Ari die inside, too."
Buck paused, gauging Hawk's reaction. The avian's eyes were hooded and unfathomable, but Buck instinctively felt that he had affected the other man, even if only slightly.
“Listen. If something's wrong, talk to me about it. I'll help any way I can. I'm your friend, and Ari's like a kid brother to me. I'll do anything for either of you. You have other friends. Talk to them. Wilma, or Dr. Goodfellow, or the Admiral. Even Ari. Or call Tiber. She'll come back. We have her ship frequency code, and she said she'd always be available to help if we asked her.
"Or if you need someone to hate, hate me or all the other humans on board. We can handle it. Just don't hurt the one half-human on board who loves you so much. Ari’s so vulnerable...."
Buck saw movement at the entrance to the bridge and turned to see who entered. Ari, still in pajamas, ran toward them. Breathing hard, he halted beside them. "Stop the ship immediately."
"What's wrong?" Buck asked. "You should be asleep."
Ari pressed his hands over his ears. "Can you not hear it? It is deafening."
"I hear nothing. Hawk?"
"It is a distress signal," Ari said.
Hawk nodded in sudden understanding. "It must be a telepathic distress signal. Ship's instruments do not register it."
"Makes sense," Buck muttered. "Come to full stop. We'd better investigate. Look for survivors." He glanced at Hawk who had not touched the controls. "Come to full stop, Hawk."
"We are at full stop. I did so upon Ari's words."
For someone who cared nothing for Ari, Hawk had acted swiftly and trustingly upon the boy's words. Hawk's wall of stone had a crack in it after all. And where there was a crack there was room for a crowbar to make the hole bigger.
"Where is the distress signal from?" Hawk asked.
“Hawk, it is....” Ari glanced uncomfortably toward Buck, then at his brother as if trying to tell him something in silence. “It is....”
"I asked you where the distress signal is from," Hawk snapped harshly.
Seeking protection, Ari stepped instinctively behind Buck who winced at the eloquence of the gesture.
"I need a star map," Ari requested.
"Now on the viewing screen," Hawk responded.
The boy moved to the screen and studied the star patterns. Pointing at the map, he turned toward the others. "This star, fourth planet. I hope I can be more exact when we reach the world. The distress signal is gone. We may be too late.” Ari blinked tears.
"She is already dead," Hawk said with absolute certainty.
"She?" Buck asked.
"That is Tiber Roland's private world."
“That’s impossible. No human telepath can transmit that far. A few miles at most in the right conditions, and she isn’t even a telepath. It can’t be Tiber.”
“No human could.”
Baking in the noon sun, Buck stretched lazily against the large boulder he leaned against. He hadn't done any mountain hiking in a very long time so he was sore and tired from their first five hours of climbing.
Yawning from the high altitude, he gloried in the panorama around him. The mountains that surrounded him, Wilma, Hawk, and Ari were the American Rockies as they were meant to be — wild, stark, and awesome.
The familiar hardwoods and animals made Buck angrier about the obscenities that man had committed against his Earth. His world should be like this virgin world, not a maimed nuclear victim.
He pulled another sandwich from his pack and leisurely worked his way through it as he studied the immediate area.
The tiny canyon they had sheltered in for lunch was high and narrow around them. From the boulder falls and the scarcity of big trees, he guessed that the canyon walls were not stable. The rescue team seemed safe enough since they were away from the narrow entrance to the trail they were following.
Surrounded by the canyon, the football field-sized glade of young hardwoods they were in was pleasant and warm. The already chill autumn winds didn't hit this sheltered spot.
With quiet amusement he watched the others eating their lunch. Although he and Wilma were exhausted and oxygen-starved, Hawk and Ari had become more energetic and comfortable the higher into the mountains they climbed to reach Tiber.
Under Ari’s direction, they had flown to the mountain valley where Tiber was, and they’d spotted her snazzy little hovercraft and a massive fresh landslide, but they’d not seen her or spotted her with sensors.
Wilma had suggested that the rare minerals and quartz in the slide were masking her life signs, and they’d all agreed that was probably what was happening, but he doubted that any of them really believed that.
The valley itself was too narrow and rough for them to land with their larger shuttle so they’d found the closest landing spot and mapped their route to reach her by foot.
A pity One had chosen now to return to its home world to feed and energize itself; it could have teleported Tiber to them with little delay, but the energy creature hadn’t really had any choice but to leave.
Even after the damage it had received getting him and Ari away from the nova, it had chosen to stay by the boy’s side because of his devastating grief and Buck’s injuries. With Hawk’s return and before his drastic change in personality, it had used its last energy to teleport itself home.
Since their confrontation on the bridge, Hawk had become an even greater puzzle. When Ari had told them of Tiber's distress signal, Hawk had changed again. Before he had been essentially emotionless, but he was there.
Now he was blank, cold, and empty. Like an animated catatonic victim lost in some interior horror, Hawk stared inward and went at his tasks and this rescue automatically while his soul existed elsewhere.
Buck could forgive Hawk his self-absorption. He was terrified for Tiber, too. She had won his admiration for her loving responsiveness to Ari. Her beauty and her immense knowledge of the 20th Century gave him wistful thoughts of a permanent relationship. A woman who laughed at his humor and understood his slang without needing a translator or a trivia encyclopedia was beyond price.
He’d come damn close to making a fool of himself over her, but he’d seen her face in an unguarded moment as she looked at Hawk, and he’d backed off as he’d cursed Hawk’s luck in winning her love and his stupidity for not returning it.
Buck shook his head in disgust at his friend and in admiration of Tiber. Considering how well she normally hid her feelings, she must have given him that glimpse deliberately to save his pride and to keep him from moving from infatuation and lust to throwing his heart at her feet. Yet another act of generosity and kindness he owed her for.
She also deserved more gratitude than he could ever give for saving Hawk at the risk of her life, then healing and returning him to the Searcher. She’d gone beyond that to give Buck his own life back. A dozen lifetimes weren’t enough to thank her.
With no regrets, he’d willingly helped Hawk fake a ship communications’ distress call from Tiber to hide the knowledge of her telepathic gift from the rest of the crew, and he’d remained silent about her not being human.
But why was Hawk so damned certain she was dead? He had asked, but the stubborn bird had remained silent. Buck made a crack about reading the future in tea leaves, and Hawk had agreed!
Buck shook his head. Hawk was positive Tiber was dead, but he hadn't dragged his heels either in this rescue. He was obsessed about reaching her, or something else he had to do.
Hawk might be hard to live with, but he certainly wasn't boring.
Wilma's voice broke Buck's train of thought. She asked Hawk, "You told Buck that this is Tiber's private world. How can she own a planet?"
"She holds this world in trust. Her family have terraformed this planet over many generations. Before, it was inhospitable to all life.
“Tiber herself has established the larger life forms. Soon, the ecology will be stable enough for settlers." Wistfulness touched his voice. "She promised me that she would keep this planet for any avian race we would find. A new home world."
His eyes widening in surprise, Buck studied his friend’s impassive face. That was the first emotional response Hawk had given to anything. Perhaps the avian was coming out of the blank shock created by Tiber's mysterious distress signal.
Remembering his plan to break through Hawk's emotional wall, he grinned and said, his voice heavy with innuendo, "She'd give you anything. I could see how attracted she was to you. I'd have loved to have spent those months on this planet with a gorgeous, sensual woman like Tiber Roland. Her chestnut hair, the gray eyes, those long sexy legs, and her terrific figure. I wouldn't have been bored at all. How about it, Hawk? Did you enjoy your stay here?"
Flame flared in Hawk's eyes, but, when he spoke, his voice was ice cold. "Humans are rutting, faithless animals."
Buck smiled. Another crack in Hawk's emotional stone wall, and with Wilma who wasn’t aware of Tiber’s non-human status present, Hawk had no real way to defend her. It was a dirty trick but for a good cause. "You should know all about rutting humans, one rutting human in particular. You spent so much time alone with her. Was she as good at it as she looks?"
"I was referring to you, Human. By the laws of my people, I should kill you for such a filthy remark against her. Tiber is my friend. I guard her honor as my own. She understands what honor and love are between a man and woman. I will not have you speak so vilely of her. I owe her the debt of my life. As your vanity owes her a great debt."
His hand moving to his face, Buck winced. Hawk knew exactly how to stab back, one of the joys of friendship.
The absolute horror on Ari's face at their bitter quarreling compelled Buck to stop his assault. He didn't want Ari forced into taking sides. That would tear the kid apart. "Touché, Hawk. I stand corrected. I didn't enjoy playing Phantom of the Opera. What kind of doctor is she? I keep forgetting."
"A medical archeologist specializing in xenobiology." Hawk's voice became even again. "She studies the ancient races' medical knowledge, then reapplies that knowledge to existing races. The embryonic healing tanks she employed with us both was such knowledge."
Wilma gasped in rapture and pointed upward. "Look. How beautiful. What is it, Buck?"
"It is an eagle," Hawk said, then gave a loud high-pitched cry which forced the humans to cover their ears. In answer, the golden eagle plummeted toward them, feathered its wings, and landed gently on Hawk's gauntlet-protected wrist. Hawk stroke the wild creature with practiced ease.
"Can you control all birds like that?" Buck asked.
"I know him. This is Wind, a friend to Tiber. She taught me his language. Our blood kinship also makes mental communication simple even with my limited telepathic abilities." Hawk spoke to the eagle, "What do you wish, Cousin? Do you know where Tiber is?"
Surprise, joy, then open distress touched Hawk's face as he gazed at the eagle in silent communication.
"What is wrong?" Ari asked. "Is she dead as you fear?"
The eagle fluttered to a large boulder beside Ari.
"No, she lives, barely. That landslide came down on her while she slept. She is pinned and grows weak."
As if to hide his emotions, Hawk turned from the others.
"What's so special about that valley, Hawk? Why is she up there?" Wilma asked.
"When I was convalescing, she took great pains to keep my mind off my sorrows. She taught me the language of the birds. I taught her the avian language. We taught each other the songs of our peoples. She was... is very musical.
"She was ashamed, at first, for someone of my people to hear her voice. She thought it poor in comparison to avians sprung from song birds, but I convinced her that she sang as the lark-- in pure tones and straight from the heart. After the shyness passed, she sang freely.
“As I grew stronger, we traveled. She showed me this world. One day she introduced me to an ancient Earth custom, the picnic. We went up to that high valley. It is extraordinarily beautiful there -- waterfalls, trees, and clouds. It is my happiest memory of this world, and my saddest."
The straightness of Hawk's back kept the others from asking further. Ari moved to Hawk and hugged him to comfort him. "We will save her."
Stiffening, Hawk spoke in distaste, "Take your hands off me."
Ari shrank from him as if slapped.
"The terrain will be even worse now," Hawk said. "We must be careful, too, of the animals. There are mountain lions and bears. Ari and I must be especially cautious. Tiber said that the big cats are fond of poultry."
Buck choked back a laugh.
Ari deliberately turned away from Hawk and walked to Buck. "I am going onto the trail to see if I can pinpoint her exact location."
"Okay, Ari. Be careful."
Climbing up through the narrow canyon opening, Ari stepped out onto the trail.
Buck expected angry recriminations from Hawk at his encroachment of Hawk's guardian prerogatives with the boy. Instead, there was approval in the avian's eyes. What was wrong with him? Did he want him to take Ari's affections away from him?
"Are you certain of Tiber's location now?" Buck asked Hawk.
"Basically, yes. The images in Wind’s mind were clear enough to give me several possibilities in that valley."
"Why don't you take a look at the terrain again. Discuss it with Ari. Make certain of our direction."
"I need no discussion. My people do not get lost so easily. But to please you, Human, I will look." Hawk darted up the slope as if eager to get away from his friend's probing eyes and sharp tongue.
Wilma stood and studied Hawk and Ari just beyond the canyon mouth. Patently ignoring the boy with his back to them all, Hawk studied the terrain.
"He's acting more and more strange. What is wrong with Hawk?" Wilma asked.
"I wish I knew. I think Hawk's brain got fried in that nova. Or his heart. I don't think the boy will take much more of this."
Almost in response to Buck's statement, Ari screamed something at Hawk and shoved him violently toward Buck and Wilma. Off balance, Hawk pitched over and rolled down the steep hill. In a flash of movement a huge yellow shape struck Ari to the ground.
Buck pulled out his weapon, ran toward the canyon entrance, then snapped off a fast shot at the mountain lion. The shot missed and hit the mountain side. Rocks exploded, showering the whole canyon entrance with debris.
After the air cleared, Buck found himself on the ground beside Hawk’s prone body at the bottom of the slope. Wilma coughed and swore behind him. If she was swearing, she was unhurt.
Ari lay on his back just beyond the canyon mouth. From about twelve feet away, Buck couldn’t see any damage.
The boy wiggled his head in confusion then looked around.
"Ari, are you all right?" Buck shouted.
"Do not come to me. The big yellow cat is waiting at a ledge above the canyon entrance. He will pounce on you if you come to me."
"Got it. Are you okay?"
"I am bruised."
"Stay where you are. Don't move. Movement may attract the cat."
Hawk stirred, sat up, and shook his head like he’d been unconscious. Blood trickled down from a cut just above his right eye. "What happened?"
"Ari shoved you out of the way of a mountain lion. The cat got him instead. I shot, missed, and started a small landscape. The boy's right over there. He says he's fine, but we can't get to him because the mountain lion is above the entrance to the canyon, and Ari can't move for the same reason.”
Ari noticed Hawk's intent stare. "I am unhurt, Hawk. Stay where you are."
"I understand," Hawk called back.
"Are you hurt?" Buck asked.
Hawk placed his hand on his right side then drew it away in confusion. "I thought. . . . No, I am unhurt. You?"
"My ankle hurts. A falling rock. Bruised, but not broken, I believe."
"If you're interested, I'm fine," Wilma said crawling to them, her gun in one hand.
Buck smiled at her. "I knew that after all the swearing. When you're hurt, you get noble and quiet. Look, that eagle's with Ari."
"Wind will keep the mountain lion away. Even the big cats fear a sky warrior," Hawk said. "Wind tells me the lion is old, sick, and hungry. It is eager for a kill. It will not leave us. We are trapped here."
"Terrific," Buck muttered. "A Mexican standoff."
Hawk gingerly touched his right side. Muttering an avian word of shock and dismay, he scrambled upward toward the canyon mouth.
Buck and Wilma both landed on him and pinned him to the ground.
"Let me go!" Hawk twisted beneath them.
"What are you doing? That lion will kill you." Buck said.
"The boy lied to protect us. He is badly wounded. He is bleeding to death, a major artery in his right side. I will offer myself to the cat. When it lands on me, kill it. Now, let me go, or do I kill you first?" Hawk's gaze held primal flame as it met Buck’s.
"No, someone has to kill the lion." Buck steadied his gun against a rock. "The best location for a kill is to the left of Ari. A clean shot, and Ari won't be landed on."
Hawk nodded, as if silently thanking them both for their lack of noble offers of sacrifice, then ran toward the kill spot.